Palomino, a backpacker’s town off the Caribbean coast

Palomino is considered by many an authentic paradise in the Colombian Caribbean. This small town of unpaved streets has one of the most beautiful beaches in Colombia, surrounded by extensive vegetation and located between the mouth of the Palomino and San Salvador rivers. Its sunsets are magical, as the sun sets over the mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

How to get to Palomino

Palomino is reachable by land, the local companies Copetran and Expreso Brasilia cover the route Riohacha-Santa Marta with a stop in Palomino. The bus trip from Riohacha or Santa Marta takes about two hours and costs around 25,000 COP. Tickets can be purchased online or directly at the bus station.

What to do in Palomino

Palomino is a perfect place to relax, go surfing, tubing or learn about the way of life of the indigenous communities. This Guajira town has a lot to offer.

Surf

Palomino is the ideal place to get started in surfing, as the waves are generally calm. Some local agencies located at the beach offer surf and bodyboard rentals for 20,000 COP per hour and offers lessons for 60,000 COP.

Mouth of the San Salvador River

My favorite spot in Palomino is the mouth of the San Salvador River into the Caribbean. This place is very quiet, perfect for relaxing, sunbathing and swimming. There is a large mangroove area where you can watch the locals fishing and spot different birds. It is also a great sunset spot.

To get there you must walk approximately 40-50 minutes east from the main beach of Palomino. It is a natural virgin beach, so there are no restaurants, stores or stalls, it is advisable to bring your own drinks and food.

Tubing at the Palomino river

Tubing is a super fun way to travel along the Palomino river bed. Many local agencies rent the tires to do so, for about 40,000 COP, including a guide, a ride to the starting point and a life jacket. Although the river is not very deep and the current is calm, it is mandatory to wear a life jacket and be accompanied by a guide during the trip, which lasts approximately 2-3 hours from Pozo Caiman until reaching the Caribbean.

Visiting the Arhuaca indigenous community

The Arhuacos are the indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. They live in the high valleys of the rivers Piedras, San Sebastián de Rábago, Chichicua, Ariguaní and Guatapurí, in an area recognised by the Colombian state as a collectively owned indigenous reserve. Its population is estimated at just over 30,000 inhabitants distributed in 22 communities.

The settlements are generally dispersed,being Nabusímake the main one. It is located in the municipality of Pueblo Bello, consisting of some 50 square houses and circular temples.

The main activity of the Arhuacos is subsistence agriculture, as well as tobacco and coffee production for commercial purposes. They also produce the Arhuaca backpack, one of Colombia’s most representative handicrafts.

The Arhuacos are a deeply spiritual people, believing in the existence of the creator called Kakü Serankua, represented in the Sun, from which the first gods and material beings emerged, fathers like the snow-capped mountains and mothers like the Earth and the Moon. They consider the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to be the heart of the world. Their spiritual leaders are called Mamo, who are philosophers, priests, doctors and practical counsellors.

The Arhuaca community and the Colombian armed conflict

The Arhuaca community became involved in the armed conflict back in the 1980s, when settlers and non-indigenous traffickers introduced illegal crops of marijuana and coca for the production of cocaine through chemical processes. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta became the scene of fighting with the massive presence of military, paramilitary and guerrilla forces, resulting in the murder of indigenous people accused to be involved.

Do you want to visit an Arhuaca community? the companies Sierraventur and Awake Travel organise 1 or 2-day tours from Palomino to the Seydukwa farm, a two-hour walk through the national park.

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